An artist explores the tension between retaining a sense of home and casting off her restrictive past.
Jennie Olsen lost touch with her parents at the age of three, when never-before-seen aunts and uncles took her from her Minneapolis preschool to her grandparents’ farm in rural Minnesota following a domestic conflict, the details of which she never fully learns. As a child, Jennie rebels against her country life while absorbing the strict values set forth by her Swedish grandparents. Popping in and out of her life, her relatives border on stereotypes–the irresponsible mother, deadbeat dad, drunk uncle–but the stiff emotional exchanges between the characters acutely depict the everyday tragedy of missed human connections. While Christensen’s prose captures emotion and piques the reader’s interest, the delivery lacks eloquence. The narrative is jumpy, leaving thoughts and plot lines unfinished, and the unanswered questions will only frustrate readers. The author also uses her child protagonist’s naivetÃ© to withhold details about her mother’s salacious story, parceling nuggets out through other characters’ veiled remarks, which may keep pages turning but feels manipulative. The novel is at its most poignant when chronicling contradiction: the creative yet reserved Jennie learns about herself from a critical but astute husband and her efforts to leave behind her rural past by selling paintings teeming with pastoral images. The path Jennie takes to reconcile her past predictably, but satisfyingly, is mirrored by her increasingly experimental artwork.
An homage to the creative process that is engaging but lacks originality.